No, not the dreamy Brad Pitt film. Seven Years in Tibet is Heinrich Harrer’s real-life epic tale of his fight to stay outside the internment camps during WWII and his determined goal to make it to the mysterious and elusive Tibet. I’ve never watched the film adaptation, but when I was fortunate enough to come across and purchase an original copy of this novel, I jumped on it. I have a real soft spot for old books, but I also have a strong love of true tales of survival in the outdoors. From young adult books like The Sign of the Beaver and Hatchet to more current ones like Jungle: A Harrowing True Story of Survival, Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster, or even the slightly humorous A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail… I am always a sucker for a good survival story. I love the outdoors, camping, hiking, kayaking, no-match fire-making, ultralight hiking, etc. so they are enjoyable to me. I may have never been running away from imprisonment, but I’ve “accidentally” climbed the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon when a “shortcut” to the trail turned into a thousand+ foot climb with no gear, and in some places beyond vertical… so I can relate as well.
The story itself is fairly raw since Heinrich is not an author (again, sort of like me) but it gets the job done. It skips around sometimes and fails to flesh out some important areas and concepts but on the whole it places you there in his shoes. It lingers in a few spots for far too long, and I grew tired of some of the constantly rehashed themes long before the last page, but I’m glad I read it. I learned some new things about life in Tibet as well as customs and some regular aspects of daily life that never see print in other writings on this land. I had been looking forward to his encounters with “Butter Tea” and I wasn’t disappointed as it comes up fairly frequently, yet it seems he has a pretty decent time of it. I struggled with whether I should place this in the Good Reads section or not since it is kind of like watching a film by a first-time director, but sometimes – especially if you read a ton – that is just what the doctor ordered. It was a nice break from careful prose and storytelling, and if anything makes you appreciate the talents of a real author that much more.